“Coming Out” as a Mormon Feminist in Support of Ordination—On TV
If you would like to demonstrate your desire for women to hold the priesthood but didn’t make it out to Salt Lake City to join Ordain Women at the Priesthood Session last October, you have another chance. Ordain Women has decided to attend the April 2014 priesthood session.
I participated in October, in spite of my fears about declaring my desires to participate in the priesthood so openly. Before Ordain Women, I had enjoyed semi-anonymity, using only my first name here at the Exponent. My involvement in Ordain Women resulted in a pretty dramatic “coming out” as a Mormon feminist to my Mormon family, church leaders and predominantly LDS local community.
The day that the Ordain Women October Priesthood Session Action event Facebook site launched, someone directed my parents to my positive RSVP. This had the potential to go very badly, considering that we had a big ol’ fight after someone pointed out my support for Pants to Church Day in 2012. However, my dad sent me a short, tactful email requesting my “thoughts on this.” I emailed back telling him that I support ordination of women and included a copy of my Ordain Women profile. My father responded with a long letter that essentially said that my parents did not know whether they agreed with the concept of women’s ordination, and that they dislike public demonstrations, but they trusted me and would not try to stop me from doing something I felt called to do.
I was one of four women who signed a letter to officials at church headquarters requesting tickets to Priesthood Session for 150 women. The day Church Headquarters responded was busy for me. I was painting a new guest room in preparation for hosting a friend from out of state who would stay at my house during the priesthood session event. The LDS Newsroom responded to our letter requesting tickets, gave copies of our correspondence with Church Headquarters to the press, and announced a new policy that Priesthood Session would be broadcast live. So the press called us. I was on TV that day on all local Salt Lake City TV stations. My neighbor across the street called me to ask if my house had flooded, as that was the only explanation she could think of for all the TV crews at my house.
I thought more concerned family and friends would contact me after I was all over the news. The Ordain Women website had about 20,000 views that day, with mine being the most viewed profile, so I was pretty sure people were looking me up. But I mostly got radio silence. My best friend from high school sent me a thoughtful letter saying she didn’t want ordination, but she was following my posts and was impressed with me and with other Ordain Women supporters. Two college friends who have left the church because of gender discrimination issues contacted me to express their admiration for my efforts. Two strangers sent hate mail.
My stake president called a few days before the priesthood session. He wanted me to get a babysitter and bring my husband and meet with him that very night. I was not able to accommodate his short-notice meeting request but we met a week after the Priesthood Session action. He extended some advice and caution but assured me that I would not be disciplined for supporting women’s ordination.
The day of the priesthood session action my dad came over to speak with me. He told me that although I had personally received radio silence, he and my mom had received many calls from concerned relatives and friends ever since I had been on the news. (At this point, I feel it necessary to mention that I am 37 years-old.)
“Why don’t they call me?” I asked.
“That’s what I tell them. Call April.” My dad responded correctly.
However, he had written down the questions people were asking, some of which, he confessed, were kind of offensive, and he was wondering if I would mind answering them for him. We had a nice talk as we went over two legal size pages of questions.
When I arrived at the park to meet Ordain Women supporters who would walk together to the priesthood session, I saw crowds of women talking to reporters about their desire to fully participate in the work of the Lord as priesthood holders. After spending most of my life following social stigmas that silence women and compel us to feign that we love our exclusion, it was like a miracle to see so many women willing to openly express their righteous desires to fully participate in the church. That was the best part of the evening for me.
When we arrived at Temple Square, a church spokesperson met us and asked to speak with the four women who had been corresponding with her–including me. She seemed like a lovely person but, of course, she did not have good news for us. We would not be admitted. However, we were not asked to leave, either.
While we waited in line, one of the men attending priesthood session took it upon himself to police us. He marched up to us and told us we were “out of order.” He was saying things like, “You think women should baptize? Pass the sacrament? Be bishops?” as if that would be horrible. But one of my friends disarmed him with some talk about their shared Scottish roots and he calmed down.
I was near the front of the line, so I was one of the first to be turned away personally. I thought I was prepared for that, but I was a little surprised at how hurtful it felt to me. I knew that invited men had participated in the General Relief Society Meeting inside the Conference Center and uninvited male spectators were allowed to watch it in the Tabernacle the week before, so I was prepared to be admitted to the Tabernacle but refused entrance to the Conference Center. Instead, women were forced to stay outside. Many of the other women were crying as they were turned away. I did not shed tears, but I realized later that my sadness was apparent anyway, when I read this.
Since I was done so soon, I offered to help a wonderful sister who came all the way from Germany to claim the international tickets her bishop had ordered for her at Will Call. To my knowledge, she was the only woman among us who was successful at getting tickets from her local priesthood leader. We went to Will Call where, for the first time that evening, I encountered a grumpy, angry volunteer usher instead of a trained, smiling PR professional. He shooed us away from the Will Call line, not even allowing us to ask if my German friend’s tickets were there, and demanded that we go to Gate 20.
“What do you think is at Gate 20?” asked my German friend.
“A PR professional who will tell us that the session is only for men and boys,” I replied. And I was completely right. Unfortunately, that particular PR professional happened to be a really nice person from my own ward, who is married to my Relief Society President, whom I also really like. That was probably the hardest part of the evening for me. I felt sorry for this German woman, who had come so far and so desperately wanted to get into the session, and I felt bad that my neighbor had to go through the unpleasantness of enforcing the gender restriction. And I wondered if we were still friends.
That evening, I was so weak and exhausted I asked my friend to drive the car. I attributed my discomfort to the stress of the day until I developed a fever and realized I was actually physically ill. Of course, virtually everyone attributed my sickness to a weakened immune system due to stress, so maybe that distinction is irrelevant.
While waiting in line at the Priesthood Session, a reporter had asked the woman standing beside me how she felt. She said she felt proud. I am glad the reporter did not ask me that question. I did not feel proud yet. I felt tired and sad and sickly. But now, looking back, I also feel proud.
I am coming back to the Priesthood Session this April and this time, I am not afraid.